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  FreeSpace 2 - Review

Game Play

85% - Oh So Good, Oh So Fun

The gameplay is so dead-on to the addictive style of X-Wing Alliance that personal feelings come into play.

Volition has presented an extremely slick, intuitive flight interface that stands up on its own. Radar, Energy Control, and Throttle are all designed with even more finesse than the classic X-Wing method. Button configuration is almost too easy. And most of the time, you don't stand a chance against the bigger vessels!

Many people will be confused by the universe of ships, however. Although the naming conventions are much like what you would find in today's military, the lack of catchy names, distinctive ship designs, or fleet explanations only serves to disguise their purpose. While somebody could easily figure out the difference between a TIE-Bomber and a TIE-Interceptor, most will end up waiting for the mission to end so they can visit the ship library and see exactly what role a "Seraphim" fighter has. The same goes for weapons.

Multiplayer pilots will be pleased to see the robust countermeasure/missile system. Gamers can see what direction missiles are coming in from on their HUD so they know when to fire a countermeasure. Along with a sound warning system, it proves infinitely more effective than the missile targeting setup of the X-Wing series.

Flight Commands are tricky to learn, but thanks to the messaging display control, are fairly easy to handle. Its quick and easy to assign some or all of the fighters under your command to complete specific objectives.

The hot key setup is rightfully complicated, yet really annoying. You have to pause the game using F3 in order to assign ships or wings to hot keys, and not only does it hurt the immersion of the game, but it gets annoying fast as you have to rebind F7 for the 5th group of Aquarius fighters. Its also the only way to order your squad to attack entire flight groups at a time.

The lack of sector-based missions will disappoint those who love the innovation in the genre (myself included), but the fantastic hide-and-seek nature of the nebula missions and the vast space involved with missions involving multiple capital ships seems to even things up. Weaving between the beam weapons of competing warships is a pleasure, and often the ship is so big you feel like you are flying inside it.

The most striking inclusions were the optional campaigns and mission to mission effects - do you want to volunteer for covert ops, or take that promotion? If you missed that ship before it jumps to hyperspace, will it come back to haunt me (probably)? There are no clear cut collections of missions - you are needed to do everything you can to stop the Shivans and NTF, and you can win medals or other awards at any time. It adds an immeasurable feeling that you are in control of your career, and the game, right down to the infamous last mission.

And how does the gameplay reward you? With brilliant cut scenes, including an endgame sequence that blows away anything else I've seen on the PC in terms of adrenaline. The effect is even magnified because you can't help but feel a part of the Freespace universe by the time you finish the game.

 

AI / Difficulty

70% - Intelligence in Fits and Spurts

Artificial Intelligence should be easy enough to gauge in the space flight genre, but in this case, its not.

Half of the time, your Wingmen will behave responsibly, follow orders and generally do what it takes to keep themselves alive. The other half of the time, they will ignore standing orders, waste their payloads on scout fighters, and generally die an entire wing at a time. Unfortunately, this seems to happen the most with missions that are either somewhat long or immediately carry on in a second mission file.

Thankfully, AI and difficulty overall are not problems. Volition implemented a very effective mission structure where goals are not set in stone - despite harsh reprimands, you can often go on to the next mission if you accomplished only a few of the primary mission objectives. Occasionally, primary objectives will also be overruled, especially in ambush situations where you lose a capital ship. This makes for an unusually streamlined design. There are a scant few times when you will ever wish for a Leave of Absence option.

As usual, there is a difficulty select in the options menu, but the greater half of the options seem to be more trouble and agony than they are worth.

 

Multiplayer

67% - Not too shabby!

Multiplayer is about as solid as it can get for space flight games, but that really isn't saying much. If you don't have a nice low ping, high bandwidth connection, expect choppiness and lag by the dozen. PXO.NET and Squadwar.com provide the hosting/matching services, however, and they do an excellent job, with some very Battle.net like options.

Squad war, in particular, is impressive because it implements a very good "universe". Pilots can join squadrons, which can win awards and attempt to control sectors of the galaxy. It also eliminates a lot of the monotony of pint-size duels with other pilots.

Although the countermeasures work great, its fairly difficult to figure out what is a good, balanced fighter for any particular match up. I often found myself completely outgunned unless I pulled into the oh-so familiar "follow the leader" tactic. A strong grasp of the fighters and armaments is essential to doing well.

Nonetheless, its heads above X-Wing Alliance, and likewise deserves a higher score.

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